My friend gave her 4 month old baby an Easter peep (a marshmallow). Is that harmful to her health? I'm really worried. Please let me know if I should be this worried.
For those of us not in USA, "peep" is marshmallow candy: Wikipedia article. I had to look it up.
As one user comments, infants can't chew food so they either spit it out, swallow it whole -- or choke on it! For this reason, infants should not be given food they can't swallow.
If the parent feels that the infant really needs to eat a peep, then cut it up in raisin-sized pieces that can be easily swallowed and feed one piece at a time.
However, my personal opinion is that infants should not have candy. This is not cruel, and not greedy. They simply don't need the candy (it's not food), they can't appreciate the taste, they don't need the non-food chemical ingredients, and they certainly don't need the sugar and/or fructose that can harm their levels of body sugar, and can harm their dental hygiene. I think that parents who give candy to infants have seriously misunderstood their responsibility.
It is probably not good practice to let your 4-month-old eat a marshmallow for more than simply the fact that it's a choking hazard. A Peep is a marshmallow which means it's mostly sugar, but also gelatin, various dyes (depending on which color of Peep she gave her child), dairy products, and preservatives. My best friend's mother buys Peeps every year, puts them away, and eats them the next Easter after they've hardened. They're not moldy just hard. Those are some serious preservatives.
From a safety standpoint, most 4-month-olds I know do little more than lick or suck on any kind of solid food given to them. I'm guessing her child did something similar and probably didn't "eat" the Peep. I don't know--I'm just guessing. Having said that, most 4-month-olds probably aren't eating anything more strenuous than pureed baby food or cereals mixed with breastmilk, formula, or water. Perhaps yogurt. Developmentally, most babies lack the appropriate reflexes to allow them to truly "eat". The beginnings of chewing don't start to appear in children until they're 5-9 months old, and it's a truly rudimentary movement of simply moving the jaw up and down in a munching motion. If her child were able to get a sizeable portion of the Peep into her mouth, he/she would be physically unable to chew it at 4 months. This is an obvious choking hazard.
However this is your friend's child and not yours. While I can appreciate your concern for you friend's child, it's unlikely that there's anything in the Peep that will hurt him/her this once. The immediate threat to the child was choking and, since that apparently didn't happen, he/she is probably ok. Depending on your relationship with your friend, you could certainly try talking to her. You might try asking her what other types of foods she's tried giving her baby. You don't want to insinuate to her that she's being a bad mother. Sometimes parents get a little over-excited when their child starts to show interest in eating real food rather than being purely breast/formula fed, and it can be tempting to suddenly start giving them all kinds of foods. If you don't have kids of your own, you can't go in there and start telling her what to feed her baby. That will start an argument and you'll lose a friend (and trust me when I tell you that all women 4 months postpartum need their friends). Your best bet is to get her to access the information she all ready knows to help her make better decisions later--or motivate her to search out the answers to questions on her own. If she's started her baby on solid foods, you might ask a question like, "You know, I don't have any kids, when do you know they're ready to eat solid foods? And what are the kinds of things they can eat at first? What have you tried? (If she mentions Peeps, you might say Weren't you afraid Baby X would choke?)" and that kind of thing. I'm guessing she just got excited. No harm this time, but next time could be disastrous.
I recall having dinner with some friends either shortly before or shortly after our first child was born. We must have appeared shocked at something they let their toddler get away with, although I don't recall what it was, because they jokingly commented about how much more protective parents are of their first child compared to their youngest. At the time it seemed improbable. Now it seems perfectly logical.
Kids are instinctively hardwired to put anything and everything into their mouths. No matter how attentive you think you are, every kid will at least once manage to eat some dirt, or a bug, or some soap, or even some candy, and they turn out okay. It wasn't too many generations ago that kids lived on dirt floors.
Now, it doesn't follow that you shouldn't try to prevent them from eating something harmful by accident, but unless the peeps are a large part of her diet, by far the biggest risk is choking, and you can mostly mitigate that by either cutting it into very small pieces, or holding one end so the baby can't accidentally swallow it. A little indulgence every now and then never hurt anyone. In fact, there's evidence that shows the exact opposite.
Ideally babies shouldn't be eating anything other than milk much before they're six months old. This is because they don't have the motor skills yet to move food around in their mouths, and their gut hasn't matured enough to be able to digest other foods properly. There is some evidence that early introduction of solid food increases the chance of food allergies.
However, while the NHS and the WHO and a whole bunch of other official bodies recommend against it, I don't think you should be that worried that your friend fed her four-month-old a sweetie. It might not be what you'd choose to do with your child, or I with mine, but the danger really isn't that great. Even choking, which as other people have pointed out is the greatest risk from a Peep, isn't actually that likely. This is not a harm on the scale of assault or neglect.
But I suspect your real question was not 'Should I be worried?' but 'I am worried, what should I do about it?' You could chat with her about it, but so many people get judgey comments on their parenting from people who don't know the details of their particular situation. If she's experienced that, even a caring and knowledgeable discussion could put her on the defensive. Meg Coates has already given some good tips on how to approach the conversation.